Bonnie Bassler, the Squibb Professor in Molecular Biology, has been awarded the 2023 Princess of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research. The Princess of Asturias Awards are the highest form of recognition bestowed by the Spanish Crown and among the most important prizes conferred in the European Union.
Bassler shares the Asturias science prize with Jeffrey Gordon of Washington University in St. Louis, a leader in studying the microbiome, and Everett Peter Greenberg of the University of Washington. The award will be presented in October by Princess Leonor and King Felipe VI of Spain.
Bassler and Greenberg are pioneers in the study of bacterial communication through the emission of certain chemicals and how the formation of large groups generates behavior which differs from that produced when they are isolated. This is called “quorum sensing,” a term coined by Greenberg and colleagues in 1994. Bassler showed that each bacterial species has its own molecule — its own language — that it secretes and that only those of its own species recognize, so they know when there are a quorum of kin around them. Bassler has also discovered that bacteria can emit and receive other substances to communicate between different species and that there is a universal language that she calls “a bacterial Esperanto.”
Bassler has authored more than 330 scientific publications that have been cited almost 60,000 times, according to Google Scholar.
Each Princess of Asturias Award laureate receives a Joan Miró sculpture representing and symbolizing the award, a diploma, an insignia and a cash prize of 50,000 euros (about $53,500). In 2019, Princeton sociologist Alejandro Portes received a Princess of Asturias Award in the Social Sciences.
Each year, eight Princess of Asturias Awards are awarded; the science prize is the seventh. In recent days, the Princess of Asturias Award for the Arts went to American actress Meryl Streep, a 2006 Belknap Visitor in the Humanities at Princeton; the Award for Communication and Humanities went to Italian lecturer, writer and philosopher Nuccio Ordine; the Award for Social Sciences went to French historian Hélène Carrère d’Encausse; the Award for Sports went to Kenyan marathoner Eliud Kipchoge; the Award for Literature went to Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, a 2008 honorary degree recipient from Princeton and a visiting lecturer here between 1991 and 1995; and the Award for International Cooperation went to the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi). The eighth award, the Award for Concord, will be conferred next week.